In 2012, Chris Kluwe made headlines for his off-the-field activities, highlighted by his advocacy of same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In 2013, he made headlines by being released after the draft, which some believe was directly the result of his stance on non-sports issues. But 2014 may end up being the year where Kluwe gets the most attention yet.
Over the last week, Kluwe has contended that former teammates Blair Walsh and Cullen Loeffler overheard special teams coordinator Mike Priefer make the comments Kluwe alleged in the infamous Deadspin article that was written with Kluwe admitting then he hoped Priefer wouldn't coach again. He has also stated that, if the internal investigation of the matter isn't to his satisfaction, he will take the team to court.
Kluwe may end up becoming more famous as a plaintiff than he ever was as a punter. As the NFL wines and dines with the biggest celebrities on the world's biggest stage, Kluwe seems prepared to take people behind the velvet rope and bring the shadowy world of the locker room into the glaring light of day. Just as the Miami Dolphins were forced to pull back to curtain to expose the world to allegations of locker-room bullying, Kluwe is threatening to do the same with his allegations of the Vikings employing at least one homophobe.
The NFL is one of the strongest brand names in the world. It's right up there with Coca Cola and McDonalds. It's a world-wide brand and "protecting The Shield" has become a mantra for organizations. Unlike baseball, which can't seem to avoid tripping over its own feet in trying to quell scandals, the NFL is a marketer's dream. Co-branding with the NFL is competitive – whether it being the "official (FILL IN THE BLANK) of the NFL" to stadium naming rights. Kluwe is looking to give the Vikings a black eye, but, in the process, he may end up doing it to the entire league.
What started as an alleged isolated incident has the potential to mushroom into something much more severe and much more widespread. The recent furor over the Miami Dolphins locker room and charges of bullying made by Jonathan Martin against Richie Incognito became national news, not merely a local sports story. It threw a spotlight on the issue of bullying and, in the process, brought into the light the politically incorrect nature of locker rooms. In many ways, the locker room is one of the last strongholds of old-school mentality and the allegations made by Martin threw all NFL locker rooms into question.
Priefer has adamantly denied making the remarks attributed to him. Kluwe is just as insistent that he did. What he has threatened is that, if the investigation doesn't corroborate his allegations, the matter will go to court – where those being asked questions are done so under oath with the penalty of perjury compelling them to tell the truth. In the pristine setting of a courtroom, discussions of the nature of the blood, sweat, guts and high testosterone of an NFL locker room may also end up on trial.
Are comments like the ones Kluwe is alleging made in NFL locker rooms? There are varying degrees of comments that can be considered politically incorrect. It's one of the results of an all-male fraternity that, by its nature, keeps outsiders at arm's length. The Martin-Incognito incident showed that, even if not intended to cause irreparable harm, hazing of players goes on and racial and sexual slurs are thrown around. It happens. You put a bunch of macho personalities in one room and those things happen. If Kluwe doesn't get his satisfaction, we may find out more than many want to know about how players and coaches act and react behind the closed doors of a locker room.
In the Vikings' ideal world, Kluwe and his allegations will simply go away. He has likely burned his bridges behind him in the NFL and the only teams that will employ him are teams that are desperate due to injury or ineffectiveness. Even those will think three times before putting pen to paper. Kluwe may be morally right in his stance, but the NFL will go to great lengths to "protect The Shield" and having a perceived agitator in the midst won't be viewed positively.
By his own admission, Kluwe thinks that coming forward has ended his NFL career. In reality, before he made those allegations, none of the NFL's 32 teams – even those who had the league's worst punters or had injuries at the position –signed him. It seemed as though the NFL had decided Kluwe's career was over before that realization hit him.
Kluwe said he waited to make his allegations on Deadspin until after the Vikings' 2013 season because he didn't want to be a distraction for friends of his on the team. A potential court case would be a huge distraction, especially seeing that, if the matter does go to court, it will likely drag out into the 2014 season. In what will end up being a "he said, he said" type of situation, Kluwe appears prepared to pull the curtain back on the "boys being boys" world of the NFL and, what the general public might end up seeing likely won't be pleasant or portray the NFL in a positive light.
The issue of bullying got a ton of national attention when things blew up in the Miami locker room. If charges of homophobia and hate speech as it pertains to homosexuality end up in court, the bullying issue will pale by comparison and The Shield will take its share of hits in the process. Maybe it won't come to that, but Kluwe sounds like he's ready to take the fight into a very public spotlight and throw an unflattering light on the Vikings and the NFL.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Holler: How far will Kluwe go?
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